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My, How the Holiday has Changed

by Ann Talbot
December 25, 2014

…from Betty Call’s demonstration to the Holliston Garden Club

 

Imagine what it was like in ancient times in Europe.  Nothing was more important than the sun.  The people experienced the days becoming darker and darker until the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year. This was the low point of the whole year. (We have just had the same phenomenon – December 21 was the winter solstice.)

Originally published on December 21, 2009. It was written by our dear friend and colleague at HollistonReporter.com, Ann Talbot, who died this past fall. Ann, the quintessential teacher, was always willing and able to shed light on a topic, as she does here on seasonal traditions. NF

 

Imagine what it was like in ancient times in Europe.  Nothing was more important than the sun.  The people experienced the days becoming darker and darker until the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year. This was the low point of the whole year. (We have just had the same phenomenon – December 21 was the winter solstice.)

 

But the day after the solstice there was a little more light, hardly noticeable. It was a day to celebrate. A huge burning log was set in the center of each little town with noise and dancing and waving of bare branches to ward off evil spirits. Oak boughs and holly were featured in the Druid celebrations. The wild party lasted for a week or so until it was evident that the days were lengthening and spring would eventually come again.

The early Christian community adopted this festival of lights as the time of Christmas. Queen Victoria tried very hard to calm the events down and to make them more religious. She was not very successful.

The Viking explorers adopted some of the festivities. To the Yule log they added the wreath – evergreen as a symbol of long life and the round shape to symbolize victory and honor. On St. Lucia’s Day the oldest girl in each family served breakfast with a wreath of real candles in her hair. My mother actually did this as a teenager.

When the northern Europeans were closed into the house all winter, they brought the outdoors in with them. They hung fresh boughs from the rafters to make everything smell better. At Christmastime the evergreen branches were decorated with small gifts of dried fruits, gingerbread, toys and straw ornaments.

Candles in the windows were a signal that Christmas worship services were being held in a home. A Darla horse on a window sill had the same meaning.

The first whole tree was brought into a house in Latvia and decorated with apples. Because of its central location, Germany influenced all of Europe decorating with lights after Martin Luther and using glass ornaments and garlands of beads. All these wonderful traditions traveled to America with the immigrants.

A man named Edward Johnson used the first blinking electric lights on a tree at a price of several thousand dollars. President Grover Cleveland bought a tree for the White House beginning the National Christmas Tree.

 

Gifts used to come after the holiday, hence the Twelve Days of Christmas. St. Stephen’s Day was set aside to give gifts to the poor and on Boxing Day the wealthy gave goodies to the revelers and bonuses to servants.

The tradition of cards began in Victorian times with hand-painted pictures. A Massachusetts printer began making a rendering of Santa Claus to send to friends. The Santa legend began back in the days of the Druids when a mystical person arrived bringing some kind of gift. What the Santa figure is called depends on where you live. Interestingly Kris Kringle was a girl. The poet Clement C. Moore gave Santa the traditional look that is so recognizable.
 

As we celebrate the December holidays, we can be thankful that we can make our own artificial lighting. But, with the ancient ones, we still long for the lengthening of the days and enjoy the knowledge that spring will come again.

Thank you, Betty Call, owner of The Floral Touch Studio in Stow, MA, for the arrangements that illustrate our article. Also thanks to the Holliston Garden Club who presented Ms. Call. 

 

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Comments (2)

It's a like a present this Christmas morning to see an article by Ann, with the photo of her smiling face. She was a generous soul of many gifts. I'm reminded that no love is ever really lost.

- Susan | 12/25/14 10:58 AM

Great job Ann. You captured the context and flow of this event beautifully. Thank you. Meg Porter

- Meg Porter | 12/22/09 10:39 AM

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